The Artists

A Synonym for Love
a co-production between Volcano and Classical Music Consort

composer George Frideric Handel
librettist Deborah Pearson

stage director Ross Manson
music director, orchestra conductor Ashiq Aziz
designer Julie Fox

starring Emily Atkinson, Scott Belluz, Tracy Smith Bessette

guides Marjorie Chan, Jasmine Chen, Derek Kwan

orchestra Classical Music Consort

violin I Paul Zevenhuizen (leader), Sarah Titterington Ibett
violin II John Corban, Marcin Swoboda
viola Elizabeth Loewen Andrews
oboe/recorder Mary Ann Shore, Graham St Laurent
cello Mary-Katherine Finch, Mateusz Swoboda, Anthony Bacon
double bass Joelle Morton
archlute Lucas Harris
harpsichord Sara-Anne Churchill

Conductor/Musical Director; Artistic Director, Classical Music Consort

Ashiq Aziz, “young firecracker” (Toronto Star), praised for his “innate musicality” (Globe and Mail) and for having “enthralled audiences” (Toronto Star), is a conductor and harpsichordist committed to producing thought-provoking, historically informed performances of music from the Baroque and Classical periods. He is the founder and artistic director of Toronto’s Classical Music Consort, and his work as a guest director has taken him to the US, UK, and Sweden. Recent engagements with the CMC have included a sold-out performance of Handel’s Messiah in December 2008, a complete cycle of Haydn’s twelve London Symphonies over four concerts as part of its year-long Haydn bicentenary celebrations in 2009, and Handel's La Resurrezione as part of its 2010 Springtime Handel Festival. Along with the UK-based multi-disciplinary performance company Opera Erratica, Mr. Aziz has also co-produced three critically-acclaimed Underground /Opera productions: Handel’s Acis and Galatea (2008), Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas (2009), and Orlando Lunaire (2010), an originally-conceived site-specific piece interweaving movements from Handel’s Orlando with Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire.

Mr. Aziz has served as assistant to Laurence Cummings for the London Handel Festival’s Production of Handel’s Poro (2007) and for the English National opera’s production of Monteverdi’s Coronation of Poppea (2007), as well as assistant to David Fallis for Opera Atelier’s production of the same (2009). Mr. Aziz made his St. Lawrence Centre debut with Opera in Concert, conducting the CMC in Haydn's La Fedelta Premiata in January 2011. Other projects include a programme of 18th century French Cantatas with the CMC at the Four Seasons Centre's Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre as part of the COC's Free Lunchtime Concert Series, and the CMC’s 2011 Springtime Handel Festival, which featured a performance of Handel’s first oratorio, Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno

Educated at Upper Canada College, the University of Toronto, and the Royal College of Music, London, Mr. Aziz has studied period performance direction with Andrew Parrott, Laurence Cummings, and Adrian Butterfield, conducting with Raffi Armenian, Peter Stark, Ivars Taurins, and Paul Spicer, and harpsichord with Terry Charlston and Charlotte Nediger.

Stage Director; Artistic Director, Volcano Theatre

Ross Manson is an actor, director, and translator, and the founding Artistic Director of Volcano ("The best independent theatre company in Toronto" - NOW Magazine). Volcano specializes in projects that explore compelling social and artistic territories in innovative ways, often inventing multi-disciplinary styles of performance or development tailor-made to the idea at hand. Ross has directed nearly 20 shows for Volcano, which have earned 33 Dora nominations, 11 wins; 2 Governor General award nominations; The Carol Tambor Foundation "Best of Edinburgh" award; a Scotsman Fringe First Award (Edinburgh); the Amnesty International Freedom of Speech Award shortlist (Edinburgh); the NOW Peoples Choice Award (Toronto); The Dublin International Fringe Best Design award; and a Chalmers National Play Award (Canada). Ross has twice been nominated for a Dora award in directing, once in acting, once in playwriting, and several times in producing (winning once for Outstanding Direction, shared with Kate Alton; once for Outstanding New Play, shared with Kate Alton and The Four Horsemen team; and twice for Outstanding Production). He is the winner of both a Harold Award for community service, and a KM Hunter Award for excellence as an emerging theatre artist. He was also a finalist for the 2009 Rita Davies and Margo Bindhardt Cultural Leadership Award in Toronto.

The majority of the theatrical works Ross has built with Volcano are original, experimental and Canadian, although international theatre also features strongly in the programming. His work has been presented by the Traverse Theatre (Edinburgh), PS 122 (New York), the Magnetic North Festival (Canada), Germany's Literaturwerkstatt Poesie Festival (Berlin), the Dublin International Fringe, Festival Arts Azimuts (Rwanda), the PuSH Festival (Vancouver), GCTC (Ottawa), the Tarragon Theatre (Toronto), The Theatre Centre (Toronto), Factory Theatre (Toronto), among others. Ross has also directed for Canadian Stage, Overall Dance (Toronto and at the Canada Dance Festival), the Svenska Theatre (Helsinki) and the Blyth Festival in rural Ontario.
Ross has translated three plays from German: Woyzeck (staged in 1993); The Third Land (staged in 1994 by Volcano) and The Caucasian Chalk Circle (a project led by Richard Greenblatt, with new music by John Millard, staged at Waterloo University under the direction of Alex Follis in 2008).

As an actor, Ross has appeared in film, television, radio, and in leading roles at over 20 theatres across Canada and the USA. He has worked for such directors as Ireland’s Joe Dowling; England’s Jonathan Miller; American Blanka Zizka; and, in Canada, for Richard Rose, Daniel Brooks, Bill Glassco and Jackie Maxwell, among many others.

Deborah Pearson is a live artist, playwright and producer. She is founder and co-director of the multi-award winning Forest Fringe, an artist-led network committed to fostering a safe space to show work at various stages of development at the Edinburgh Festival.

Her creative practice spans playwriting, solo performance, devising, dramaturgy, and community and public art projects. She is committed to being formally inventive with every project she takes on. The idea always dictates a new approach to performance. Invention is central to her work, as is her interest in intimacy and narrative.

Deborah has been a resident artist with Rules and Regs, and is an alumni of the Royal Court Invitation Young Writers Programme, the Tarragon Playwrights Unit, the Banff Playwrights Colony and the Traverse Young Writers Programme. She has also run workshops for Central School of Speech and Drama, the University of Toronto Department of Ethics, Volcano and Queen’s University. She is currently a member of the BAC’s Artist Teacher Exchange Programme where she is working with Stuart Silver to develop a piece of performance with the Burntwood School for Girls.


Emily Atkinson is an American singer based in London. She earned a degree in music education from the Crane School of Music in New York before studying singing at the Royal College of Music, London. Emily has been heard on BBC Radio 3’s ‘Early Music Show’ as an oratorio soloist with the Choir of King's College, Cambridge and Florilegium and on ‘In Tune’ with her vocal quartet The 1607 Ensemble, with whom she has also appeared at several festivals throughout Europe. She has sung solo roles in Handel’s Messiah and La Resurrezione, Bach’s Mass in B Minor, St John Passion and St Matthew Passion, and Haydn’s Die Schöpfung and is a regular soloist with London’s Sweelinck Ensemble for their Bach cantatas series. A highlight of working in London has been the opportunity to perform several recitals of baroque chamber music at the Handel House Museum, in the very room where the great composer once rehearsed.


Praised as "gifted and impressive" (Globe and Mail), countertenor Scott brings his impeccable musicianship and dramatic versatility to repertoire ranging from 17th century to newly composed works. He has received great acclaim for his "brave vocal performances" (Toronto Star) in the world premieres of numerous Canadian operati  works with Tapestry New Opera, Soundstreams, Chants Libres and most recently in the dance/opera From the House of Mirth choreographed by James Kudelka for Coleman Lemieux Compagnie. Scott has also performed lead roles with Pacific Opera Victoria, Chicago Opera Theatre, and Underground/Opera. On the concert stage, Scott recently performed in the Stratford Festival's Night Music series with the trio Music in Common. Other recent concert performances have included appearances with the Aradia Ensemble, the Thunder Bay Symphony and the Classical Music Consort. Scott is a featured vocalist on the Juno nominated CD Salsa Baroque with Ensemble Caprice. Upcoming engagements include: Pergolesi's Stabat Mater with the Aradia Ensemble, Handel's Orlando with Opera in Concert and an evening of the music of Henry Purcell with Toronto Masque Theatre.

Praised for “her poise, wealth of expressive nuance and fine projection” (Opera News), Canadian soprano Tracy Smith Bessette has inspired audiences all over the world. Celebrated for her radiant warmth and clarity of expression, Ms. Smith Bessette is sought after for both the concert and the opera stages. Highlights of the 2010-11 season included Handel’s Dublin Messiah with the Aradia Ensemble, a concert of Handel Cantatas for the Classical Music Consort’s Handel Festival in Toronto, a concert of Handel arias and cantatas for the Red Deer Symphony and the role of Janthe in Marschner’s Der Vampyr at the Lanaudière Festival. Upcoming engagements include a concert of Rameau arias from Dardanus with Bernard Labadie and the New World Symphony in Florida, Mozart’s Mass in c minor with Choeur St-Laurent in Montréal and a fully staged version of Händel’s cantata Cor Fedele in Toronto with the theatre company Volcano and the Classical Music Consort.

On the operatic stage, past seasons performances have included Pamina (Die Zauberflöte), Adina (L’Elisir d’amore), Belinda (Dido and Aeneas), Venus (Venus and Adonis), Madame Herz (Der Schauspieldirektor), Poppea (L’Incoronazione di Poppea), Marie (La Fille du Régiment), Despina (Così fan tutte), Lei (La Notte di un Nevrastenico), Amelia (Amelia Goes to the Ball), Frasquita (Carmen), and Najade and Echo (Ariadne auf Naxos). As active on the concert stage and in recital, Ms. Smith Bessette’s oratorio performances include St. John’s Passion and Israel in Egypt with La Chapelle de Montréal under Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Israel in Egypt and Charpentier’s Messe du Minuit with Les Violons du Roy under Bernard Labadie, Bach’s Magnificat and Mozart’s Requiem with the Choeur et Orchestre des Grandes Écoles in Paris, Fauré’s Requiem, Vivaldi’s Gloria, Mozart’s Coronation Mass and as soloist in Handel's Messiah in France and Spain with Le Concert Spirituel and Hervé Niquet.  She has premiered many new works, several of which were written expressly for her. 

In the fall of 2002, Ms. Smith Bessette began a two-year engagement with the Centre de formation lyrique of the Opéra National de Paris, where she brought to life Susanna (Le Nozze di Figaro), Tytania (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) and Zdenka (Arabella).  The following season brought her mainstage debuts with the Opéra National de Paris on both the Opera Bastille and the Palais Garnier stages, singing Fünfte Magd (Elektra) under Christoph von Dohnanyi and Feklusha (Katya Kabanova) under Sylvain Cambreling. She has understudied several roles there, including Cleopatra (Giulio Cesare), Echo (Ariadne auf Naxos) and Morgana (Alcina).

Educated at the University of Calgary and the University of Toronto, Ms. Smith Bessette also studied at the prestigious Tanglewood Festival and the Music Academy of the West.  She then trained with the Atelier lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal, where she interpreted many roles, making her 2001 Opéra de Montréal mainstage debut as the High Priestess in Aìda. She performed Giannetta in L’Elisir d’amore the following season. Ms. Smith Bessette is currently finishing a Master’s Degree in Early Music Performance at McGill University.

With Toronto’s Aradia Ensemble, she has recorded two volumes of Christmas Motets by Charpentier, and one volume of Vivaldi’s sacred music, all on the Naxos label. The latter received considerable critical acclaim, and BBC Music Magazine’s George Pratt said

“Tracy Smith Bessette is a glorious soprano.  Her fluent passage-work is a particular delight, enhanced by exciting ornaments stretching her to Baroque-pitch top D.  [Her voice is] gloriously fresh and uncomplicated, whether in the vitality of Vivaldi’s concerto-like allegros or in her heavenly sound in slow movements.”

Ms Smith Bessette has made three short films (Forsaken, The Sorcerer, Love Song) with director Laura Taler based on lieder by Hugo Wolf, W.A. Mozart and Gustav Mahler for the arts channel BRAVO!. She has recently filmed two television shows for BRAVO! entitled “Shakespeare in Words and Music” where she interpreted Ophelia and “German Cabaret” where she sang Schönberg’s Brettl Lieder.